Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition

Campaign to Shut Down Berks

Pennsylvania is currently home to the Berks County Family Detention Center (BCRC), one of three detention centers for immigrant families, where children as young as two-weeks-old have been incarcerated, and families have been held for more than a year at a time. Berks is the only publicly-owned family detention center in the country.

The Shut Down Berks Coalition is a group of organizations and individuals fighting to close the Berks family prison in Pennsylvania and end the practice of imprisoning immigrant families in the U.S. Members of the coalition include organizers, lawyers, immigrant leaders, and allies.

You Can Take Action! Download the Shut Down Berks Action Toolkit today.

Family Detention Violates the Law

In 2009, and again in August 2015, a Federal Court determined that the practice of detaining children in jail-like settings for extended periods of time is illegal and ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to comply with the original Flores Agreement that determined family detention was illegal (see full report on federal litigation).

  • The Flores Agreement states that children may not be detained for more than 20 days, may not be held in a “secure” facility, and may not be held in a facility that is not licensed for the care of children.
  • Pennsylvania law prohibits detaining children who have not been adjudicated (convicted by a judge).
  • Pennsylvania law does not have a license that covers facilities that house children and adults together.

In January 2016, the PA Department of Human Services revoked the license to operate the Berks County Family Residential Center, and the facility license has been under legal review since February 22, 2016.

“We came escaping violence, criminal groups, and seeking help and protection. What we have received from the United States is the deprivation of our freedom.”

Mother incarcerated at Berks with her child for over 425 days
How Gov. Wolf and PA DHS Can Shut Down Berks

In Dec. 2016, the Sheller Center for Social Justice of the Beasley Law School of Temple University produced a legal memo outlining the legal powers of PA DHS and the Governor to close the Berks Detention Center. The key findings from the Sheller Center’s legal memo:

  • The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (“PA DHS”) has the authority to regulate the Berks County Residential Center (“Berks”)
  • Despite the fact that Berks holds federal detainees, Pennsylvania laws regarding the operation of child residential facilities still apply
  • PA DHS will not violate federal law (in fact it will comply with federal law set out in Flores decision) if it chooses to issue an Emergency Removal Order (ERO) or a Cease and Desist Order
  • PA DHS can work with the federal government to provide ample notice so that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can address the situation of detainees prior to shutting the facility down 

Stay Informed!

Follow the Shut Down Berks Coalition on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and subscribe to the newsletter!

If you have a group of 10 or more people who want to get involved, fill our request form for an in-depth educational webinar on the campaign!


Read more on the harms caused by family detention and recommendations for ending family detention:


Shut Down Berks Campaign Press*

*This is a selection, not a comprehensive list.